When was PTSD discovered?

PTSD, or posttraumatic stress disorder, became a pop culture mythos in 1980 when the American Psychiatric Association updated its diagnostic manual of mental disorders to include the condition. But the notion of PTSD — once labeled “shell shock,” “soldier’s heart,” “combat fatigue” or “war neurosis” — stretches back centuries into ancient times.


The American Psychological Association and the Encyclopedia of Psychology define posttraumatic stress disorder as “an anxiety problem that develops in some people after extremely traumatic events, such as combat, crime, an accident or natural disaster.

“People with PTSD may relive the event via intrusive memories, flashbacks and nightmares; avoid anything that reminds them of the trauma; and have anxious feelings they didn’t have before that are so intense their lives are disrupted.”

It’s a condition that is non-discriminate, affecting people regardless of gender, age, politics, religiosity, income, or other socioeconomic markers. PTSD is most popularly associated with military combat veterans. 

PTSD can’t be cured, but its symptoms can be managed, often through a combination of psychotherapy, self-help, and innovative medicine like the psychedelic drug ketamine.


The recognition that someone’s emotions or actions can be influenced by a traumatic event has existed for thousands of years.

PTSD in ancient times:

  • Approximately 2100 B.C. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the protagonist Gilgamesh is witness to the death of his best friend, Enkidu, and is grief-stricken by the trauma, victimized by recurring and invasive memories and nightmares of the event.
  • Approximately 500 B.C. In the Indian epic poem Ramayana, the demon Marrich suffers from textbook PTSD-like symptoms, including reliving trauma, hyper-arousal, and avoidance behavior, after cheating death-by-arrow.
  • Approximately 440 B.C. Greek historian Herodotus describes the battle of Marathon where an Athenian named Epizelus was unexpectedly hit with blindness during the heat of battle after witnessing his friend killed in combat. This blindness, triggered by shock and not physical injury, lasted many years.

PTSD in the 17th and 18th centuries:

  • The late 1600s. Swiss physician Dr. Johannes Hofer first used the term “nostalgia” to describe Swiss soldiers who experienced despair and homesickness, plus classic PTSD symptoms like anxiety and sleeplessness. Similar conditions among soldiers were also documented by German, French, and Spanish doctors.
  • 1761. In the book Inventum Novum, Austrian physician Josef Leopold Auenbrugger writes about nostalgia in trauma-stricken soldiers. The soldiers had become solitary and listless, and efforts failed to help them out of their lethargy.

PTSD in the 19th century:

  • 1861-1865. The idea of nostalgia as a “disease” was widespread in Europe and soon migrated to the United States, gaining a foothold during the Civil War when the illness was viewed as a weakness that could only be cured by public ridicule.
  • 1887. French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot starts defining the modern notion of PTSD when he shows that ‘hysterical attacks’ could be caused by a previous traumatic experience. Psychologist Pierre Janet also begins studying the nature of dissociation and traumatic memory.
  • 1895. Austrian physician Josef Breuer asks a woman suffering from trauma to recount her experiences; she recovers, and later coins the term “talking cure.” Not unexpectedly, Sigmund Freud takes the phrase mainstream while conducting ground-breaking work on dissociation and trauma.

PTSD in the 20th century

  • 1915. The term “shell shock” is introduced into medical literature via an article in the Lancet by Charles S. Myers, a Cambridge psychologist seconded to the British Army on the Western Front during World War I.
  • 1915-1918. The volume of injured and traumatized soldiers returning from battle spurs the creation of new therapies, including methods ranging from severe disciplinary approaches to psychotherapy. The spectrum included electric shocks for “shell shocked” men suffering muteness or paralysis at Queens Square in London, to officers and other patients at Craiglockhart Hospital near Edinburgh being encouraged to share “reflections on their experiences and dreams.”
  • 1942. Patients experiencing “shell shock” and other PTSD-like conditions are treated by psychoanalysts Wilfred Bion and John Rickman who pioneer the use of group therapy amongst patients at the Northfield Military Hospital, Birmingham, England.
  • 1950s. Though PTSD isn’t formally recognized for another three decades, a revolution in pharmacology leads to the development of new psychedelic drugs – the “grandparents” of ketamine.
  • 1960s. Ketamine is synthesized as an anesthetic. The drug soon acquires mythical status for treating wounded U.S. combat soldiers fighting in Vietnam and becomes a favored psychedelic drug during the nascent counter-culture movement.
  • 1970s. U.S. therapists treating Vietnam veterans, Holocaust survivors, and women victimized by domestic or sexual abuse raise awareness of potentially lifelong penalties of trauma.
  • 1980. PTSD is added to the third edition of the DSM-III-R published by the American Psychiatric Association.

If you or a loved one are dealing with the symptoms of PTSD we can help. Contact us today to learn more about the innovative new treatments that we offer.

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